Vernon Fiddler scored two of the Stars’ four goals in the first period, and Dallas clinched a playoff berth with a 6-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night.
The Stars stretched their win streak to three and improved to 4-1 against Chicago, outscoring the Stanley Cup champions 20-11 in the season series. Colton Sceviour and Patrick Eaves also scored in the first, and Jamie Benn had two assists in his 500th NHL game.
The Stars (44-21-9) lead the Western Conference with 97 points with eight games left on their schedule.
The Stars are on track to win their first division title since they took the Pacific Division in 2006.
The Blackhawks played without starting goaltender Corey Crawford for the fourth straight game due to an upper-body injury, and Scott Darling was pulled after Dallas’ big first period. Michael Leighton made 16 saves in his first NHL appearance since Jan. 27, 2013, for Philadelphia at Tampa Bay.
Crawford is day to day, but coach Joel Quenneville said after the morning skate that he isn’t sure Crawford will be able to travel with the team for its four-game road trip beginning Saturday at Calgary. Crawford’s absence is one of a whole host of issues for the Blackhawks heading into the final part of the season.
Chicago (42-25-7) has dropped six of seven to fall off the pace in the tough Central Division, including a pair of losses against the Stars and one against the Kings where it wasn’t even competitive — a bad sign even for the playoff-tested Blackhawks.
Andrew Shaw and Richard Panik scored for the second straight game for Chicago, but its biggest stars failed to generate many quality chances.
Four of Patrick Eaves’ nine goals this season have come against the Blackhawks. He had a hat trick against Chicago on Feb. 12.
Dallas grabbed control with two goals in a 25-second span of the first. Sceviour stuffed one home from behind the net that went off Darling’s stick at 11:34, and then found Fiddler all alone in front for his 11th goal of the season.
It just got worse from there for Chicago.
With captain Jonathan Toews in the penalty box for high-sticking, Eaves finished off a pretty passing sequence with a one-timer for a 3-0 lead at 16:01.
Fiddler tacked on a short-handed goal with 1:17 left, finishing a breakaway with a nice backhand shot that led to a hearty round of boos from the crowd of 22,034. Fiddler had been held off the scoresheet in his previous seven games.
The four goals allowed in the first matched a season high for any period for the Blackhawks, also accomplished by Dallas in the first period of its 4-2 win at Chicago on Feb. 11. Goals by Radek Faksa at the end of the second and an empty-netter for Cody Eakin with 6:12 remaining finished the scoring, matching a season-best for the Stars and a season-worst for the Blackhawks.
Notes: Stars defenseman Jordie Benn returned after missing eight games with a lower-body injury. Defenseman Kris Russell was scratched with a lower-body injury. … Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, left winger Brandon Mashinter, center Dennis Rasmussen and Crawford were the scratches for the Blackhawks.